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Virginia overreaches in trying to certify yoga programs

Thursday, December 17, 2009; A32

YOGA STUDIOS in Virginia, as elsewhere, are all in a twist over the state's efforts to impose certification requirements for schools that offer yoga instructor training programs. Some schools, fighting back, have filed a lawsuit seeking an exemption from the commonwealth's attempt to regulate a tradition that has gone largely unregulated for centuries. The state agency that regulates vocational education argues that it is trying only to protect consumers -- for instance, by requiring that tuitions be refunded if schools suddenly close. But in practically the same breath, the agency acknowledges having fielded no complaints about instructional classes for yoga trainers.

So why is the state trying to solve a problem if none exists?

The answer is bureaucratic overreach. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia was granted the job of certifying vocational schools in 2004. But it wasn't until a year ago that state officials seemed to notice an online, nationwide registry of yoga schools compiled by an association known as the Yoga Alliance, based in Arlington. That prompted them to notify 25 or so instructor training programs around the state that they needed to be certified. Oh, and by the way, the upfront cost of certification would run about $3,000, with hundreds more in annual fees due to the state after that.

That's a killer sum for many yoga schools, which tend to be small, and for instructor training courses, which are smaller still. Stunned, the schools, which treat their discipline as a spiritual inheritance, objected. Tellingly, the state almost immediately offered the schools concessions and special treatment, including a year's extension on the fee-payment deadline and a business training session in Richmond just for yoga studios. Then, faced with the possibility that lawmakers might provide an exemption from regulatory requirements for courses tailored to future yoga instructors, state officials have suspended their certification efforts for the time being.

Training yoga instructors may not be legally distinguishable from training hairdressers or massage therapists or bartenders. But the schools that undertake it are few and, generally speaking, modest operations that have not been the target of consumer complaints. Better to leave well enough alone or, at the least, exempt smaller schools from regulatory fees that in some cases could put yoga programs out of business.

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